Don’t Let Chikungunya Take a Bite Out Of Your Caribbean Vacation
Posted Date: 7/24/2014
For some, the highpoint of summer is an escape to a tropical paradise, where the sand is soft and the water is an unreal blue.
But before you begin to provoke Facebook envy with your pictures from your cruise to St. Lucia or your several days stay at a popular Puerto Rican resort, make sure you’re slathering on some insect repellent along with your sun block. A viral disease called chikungunya is also enjoying a holiday in the Caribbean.
“Chikungunya is often something you worry about if you’re traveling to Africa, southern Europe or islands in the Indian or Pacific oceans,” said Rajesh Mathew, MD, a board-certified infectious disease specialist with Infectious Disease Specialists of West Georgia, part of Tanner Medical Group. “But in late 2013, we began seeing it on islands in the Caribbean for the first time.”
Chikungunya is a virus transmitted by mosquitoes. The most common symptoms of the virus are fever and joint pain, often in the hands and feet. Headache, muscle aches, swelling of the joints or a rash also may occur.
From 2006 to 2013, an average of almost 30 people each year in the U.S. tested positive for chikungunya virus infection — and all had travelled from known infected areas, mostly in Asia. However, as of June 17, 2014, the number of Americans testing positive for chikungunya was at 80, including 23 locally transmitted cases in the American territory of Puerto Rico. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), no local transmission has been identified in the continental U.S.
“Because this virus is new to the Americas, it’s not something that people know about,” said Dr. Mathew. “But it is preventable if people take the proper precautions when traveling to places where we know the virus has been found.”
According to Dr. Mathew, keeping yourself safe from chikungunya is as easy as limiting your risk for mosquito bites. The CDC recommends:
- Using air conditioning or keeping screens on doors and windows when lodging in a country where chikungunya is spreading
Using mosquito repellents on exposed skin
Wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants
Wearing permethrin-treated clothing
Emptying standing water from outdoor containers (to reduce mosquito populations)
Supporting local vector control programs
“In the Southeast, we’re already well aware of how viruses can spread through mosquito bites because of our years of dealing with West Nile virus,” said Dr. Mathew. “The same principles apply — don’t get bit, don’t get sick.”
Symptoms of chikungunya virus usually begin within three to seven days after being bitten by an infected mosquito. The majority of people who are infected with chikungunya will exhibit symptoms of the virus.
While there are no medications for the virus itself, medical providers can treat the symptoms of the virus with medication to lower fever and help with pain. The virus typically runs its course in seven to 10 days.
“People who are older than 65 or who have underlying medical conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes or cardiovascular disease, should really consider limiting their travel to regions where chikungunya outbreaks are occurring,” said Dr. Mathew. “These are populations that are more likely to experience more severe symptoms than the general population.”
While there is no vaccine to prevent getting chikungunya, people traveling abroad should ask their primary care provider or an infectious disease specialist about the immunizations or precautions they should take based on their destination.
“Chikungunya is an example of why it’s important to check in with your medical provider before going outside the country,” said Dr. Mathew. “It’s something that only began occurring in the Americas within the past year, but knowing the symptoms and how to prevent contracting the virus is a big step toward protecting your health. In some instances, the joint pain alone from chikungunya can last months.”
More information on Infectious Disease Specialists of West Georgia is available online at www.InfectiousDiseaseSofWestGa.org. To schedule an appointment, call 770.812.5837.